The San Man

img_2589.jpgBy Suzanne Pekow

On Harry Nespoli’s first morning on the job as a refuse collector for the New York City Department of Sanitation, he received an unwelcome surprise. After lifting a 55-gallon drum and heaving its contents into the back of his truck, a wet mass came spewing back out of the truck’s motorized hopper, soaking him head to toe in dead pigeons, blood and water. When Nespoli came home later that day he told his wife, “I’m not going to last.”

It was 1970 when Nespoli became a sanitation worker. He had been a pretty good college football player in Kansas and had considered bouncing around a semi-professional league for a couple of years to try his luck, but times were tough. A recession was on, and the 25-year-old Nespoli had recently married, moved back to New York, and was expecting a baby. The job as a “san man” would give him a steady paycheck, health coverage for his family, and a guaranteed retirement pension among other benefits. He was a tough guy, he reasoned. He could take it, and he did.

Nespoli worked ten years as a refuse collector before he was appointed vice president, and eventually president, of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 831: The Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, where he is today.

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